Friday, May 13, 2011

My Philosophy of Theological Education

I've recently been appointed as Academic Dean at United (effective July 1), so I've been thinking through the ways in which I conceive of the work of theological education. Here's a brief statement of what I've come up with. Of course, it's subject to revision, so if you have comments, I'd like to receive them.

I believe that theological education should involve four main characteristics. First, we should aim to deepen the faith of our students by helping them to explore the riches of the Christian tradition through the centuries. Scripture, creeds, sacraments, spiritual disciplines, and other resources are all part of the rich heritage passed down to us by our fathers and mothers in the faith. They are ports of entry into the life of God, ways in which we receive the Holy Spirit and become the people that God wishes us to be.

Second, we should try to instill within our students intellectual virtue and help them avoid intellectual vice. Intellectual virtue is characterized by traits such as listening, coherence, wisdom, empathy, critical judgment, and truthfulness. Intellectual vice, on the other hand, involves the rejection of these. If we cannot genuinely engage the positions of other people, most especially those with whom we disagree, the end result will always be division, and I do not believe that division is God’s will for the church.

Third, we should in all things strive to equip students for the work of ministry. In the classroom we must always have an eye toward the work of parish ministry, so while we take students into detailed discussions of our various disciplines, the goal is always the same: to create faithful and effective pastors. Scholarship is crucially important, but our scholarly work should be in service to the church. I want to maintain a vibrant conversation with church leaders about ways in which we can work together to prepare people for faithful and effective ministry.

Fourth, we should proceed in all humility. The work that God has given us is humbling work. We are constantly confronted with mysteries of the faith that we can never fully understand. We must be good listeners, first to God, but also to our students, to church leaders, and to one another. Insofar as we disagree, we should carry out our conversations in humility and Christian gentleness, keeping in mind that we serve Christ, who humbled himself for our salvation.


  1. Congratulations on the deanship.

    My limited observation is that pastors need help - at least I did - in engaging in the kinds of conversation that help move people in the pews into a deeper engagement with the questions and virtues in your list.

    How many stories do pastors tell about people who took a position that was essentially "that may be what you say, but I believe X and have no desire to change."

    How do pastors engage that? Whether X has to do with the doctrine or practice or the color of the church pews, this is an issue I hear and read about as a constant source of difficulty for pastors.

  2. I have found Donald Schӧn's research on professional education particularly helpful. His findings have convinced me that seminary's need to offer something like a "design studio" where future pastors design responses to ministry situations, receive feedback on those design from a mentor, test their designs in a church (or other setting for ministry), and evaluate the results (again with a mentor). Because developing the professional skills needed to be effective pastors in such a long process, students will have to participate in these design studios every semester. If Schӧn's finding are accurte, then one or two supervised ministry settings is not sufficient.